President Dwight Eisenhower understood the need to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Range for its unique wilderness and the bounty of life it supports. We’re all the better because he did.
Republican leaders in Congress, determined to hand over irreplaceable public waters and lands to the ravages of oil and gas drilling, have stooped to backdoor budget chicanery to try and raid the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
It’s a shameful betrayal of the public interest — and it needs to be defeated.
When President Dwight Eisenhower set aside the Arctic Refuge nearly 60 years ago, it was largely out of concern that oil and gas companies threatened to make an industrial ruin out of one of the most pristine and ecologically important places on Earth.
Eisenhower understood the need to stand up for this unique wilderness and the bounty of life it supports. We’re all the better because he did.
With nearly 20 million acres of coastal plain and mountain peaks towering nearly two miles high, the Arctic Refuge and its waters are home to salmon, cod and 40 other kinds of fish. It’s the domain of the grizzly bear, the bull moose and the noble musk oxen, a longhair remnant of the last ice age. And it’s the nesting range and mating ground for the snowy owl, peregrine falcon, golden eagle and other birds that visit the refuge each year from every state in our country.
As its name implies, the refuge is one of the last corners of the Earth beyond the reach of industrial destruction, pollution and risk, a unique sanctuary for wildlife, natural waters and lands and all that they support.
For decades, the oil and gas industry have trained their sights on this special place. President Donald Trump has boasted that he’ll tear through the safeguards that protect the Arctic Refuge, but only Congress has the authority to do that.
The public, though, wants the refuge protected. So congressional Republicans have turned to arcane procedural tactics, hoping the rest of us won’t notice.
Earlier this month, amid a raft of late-night measures rammed through in what’s derisively called a “vote-a-rama” on Capitol Hill, the Senate rubber-stamped a budget resolution containing language meant to open the door to oil and gas operations in the Arctic Refuge.
U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, fought to protect the refuge. Her amendment that would have done so, though, failed on a largely party-line vote, 48-52, with Sen. Susan Collins of Maine being the sole Republican to support the amendment and Joe Manchin of West Virginia the only Democrat to vote against it.
The reach of the GOP assault on public lands and waters isn’t limited to the Arctic Refuge, and senators like James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, have already pledged that’s just the beginning. Also on Big Oil’s public handout wish list: federal waters in the Arctic Ocean, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and up and down the Atlantic seaboard, irreplaceable marine and coastal habitat that have been protected from the oil and gas industry.
With the help of its allies on Capitol Hill, the oil and gas industry can begin to threaten vast new stretches of water with the kind of disaster that killed 11 workers, took a lasting toll on marine and aquatic life, and oiled more than 1,100 miles of beaches and wetlands after BP’s Deepwater Horizon blew out seven years ago off the coast of Louisiana.
And here’s the rub. These kinds of budgetary provisions aren’t subject to the Senate filibuster rules. That means they can pass with a simple majority vote, rather than the 60 votes the Senate customarily requires to break a filibuster.
With its 52-48 Senate majority, the GOP might finally sneak this curveball past the plate without the public even noticing. Wink, wink.
House Republicans, for their part, already slipped a similar provision in their own budget resolution several weeks back.
Here’s what needs to happen now. We the people — who, lest we forget, own these federal waters and lands — need to stand up and demand that Congress strip these pernicious provisions out of the final budget language that both houses agree to and make sure they do no more damage.
Republican leaders wouldn’t need to resort to dirty tricks to crash the gates of our public waters and lands if they thought for a minute the American public would support that. We don’t.
From the Arctic Refuge and ocean, to the Gulf of Mexico and the great Atlantic, our public lands and waters are a public trust, set aside in the public interest by forward-looking leaders like General Eisenhower. They set special places like the Arctic Refuge aside for America’s children, so we all might know the natural splendor of this great nation as the first Americans might have experienced it long ago.
That’s not a suggestion to be callously cast aside in the dead of a Washington, D.C., night. It’s a promise we’ve made to our children. It’s a promise we’re going to keep.